Exploding the Myth of Productivity vs Hours Worked

You put more hours in, you get more out. That’s how it works, isn’t it?

In this article, we discuss the myth of employee productivity vs hours worked. We examine the benefits of turning the centuries-old concept on its head and transforming your organisation’s way of thinking into an outcome-oriented culture, in which employee performance is not measured by time worked but by the results produced.

To round off, we describe 10 actions that managers can take to support a results-oriented culture in a flexible work environment.

Let’s start with exploding the myth of employee productivity vs hours worked.

Employee productivity vs. hours worked: are they really the same?

In the past, employee productivity was measured by the number of hours they worked. It’s a concept that is so ingrained in our psyche that many people boast about the hours they spend working ─ considering it like a badge of honour.

However, we have come to realise that the time-based approach to work does not give a true representation of productivity. Even measuring productivity by the number of hours it takes to do a task does not provide a full picture. Sure, an employee who takes less time to complete a task is more productive, but this isn’t the whole story.

The most accurate way of assessing productivity is to use an output-based approach. In this method, employees are judged on their output and not on the time it takes them to produce it. This can be done by comparing their results with those of a peer or with those of an average worker in the same field.

This second method can be more useful because it considers how much work was done, not just how long it took for that work to be completed.

If we look at productivity logically, we can see that:

  • Longer hours do not equal greater productivity
  • A Stanford University study concluded that employee productivity declines rapidly after 50 hours a week. It is such a sharp descent that an employee who works 70 hours a week will produce only the same output as one who works 55 hours.

  • Working longer hours produces burnout
  • The reason for the rapid decline in productivity is tiredness. Working longer hours makes us tired. It leaves little space to rest and recuperate. With a poorer work/life balance, our ability to destress is impaired. The result is demotivation and burnout.

  • Working fewer hours is more productive
  • With time to relax, take care of issues in our personal lives, and get a good night’s sleep, we are more alert, fresher, and more motivated. We work faster, harder, and more accurately. Our output improves.

Could a results-oriented culture be the answer to having happier and more productive employees?

Thinking more like a consumer and less like a boss is key to embedding an output-based philosophy in a team. There are many things we purchase on which we price by output, without considering time ─ such as hiring a plumber to fix a leaking pipe, the remodelling of a home, or buying a car (who asks how many man hours it took to build?).

In an output-based culture, managers are not concerned with how many hours a person works. They are concerned by the results produced. Success is measured by output, not input. This means that workers have more autonomy as to how they do a task (the input side of the equation, which includes hours worked and processes used) to achieve the results required (the outcome and quality of outcome).

In such a culture, employees become directly accountable for their work. Managers should recognise and reward based on the achievement of objectives set for employees. This helps to create a sense of pride that further fires motivation and engagement with the organisation’s purpose and vision.

Further, for the employees clock-watching becomes outdated. Knowing what is expected of them, an employee is better able to design their own workday with routines that suit them ─ and this gives them greater flexibility over their work and allows them to create better work/life balance.

Outcome-oriented culture pros and cons

In an outcome-oriented culture, employees are encouraged to work hard and smart. They are expected to give a high level of performance and will be rewarded accordingly (with bonuses, salary increases, more responsibility, and promotion).

For the employer, the advantages and disadvantages of this culture and way of working can be summarised as follows:

Pros of an outcome-oriented culture

  • Improved operations
  • More satisfied and engaged employees
  • More time for value-added leadership
  • Better/more efficient collaboration and communication
  • A more adaptable organisation
  • Better agility and resilience
  • Lower risk of burnout
  • Better use and utilisation of resources

Cons of an outcome-oriented culture

  • Employees lacking self-discipline or self-motivation may not succeed in an outcome-oriented culture
  • An outcome-oriented culture is not for everyone (for example, it can be hard to implement in highly collaborative organisations)

How can managers support an outcome-oriented culture in a flexible work environment?

An organisation’s culture is a set of values, norms, and behaviours that shape the way its employees work.

Managers can support an outcome-oriented culture by ensuring flexibility and support of new ideas, focusing on key values such as autonomy and risk-taking. This will help employees to innovate processes to get their work done effectively as they take more control over their time, location, and workload in a flexible work environment.

The 10 actions that managers should take to foster and embed an outcome-oriented culture are:

  1. Have a clear understanding of your outcome expectations
  2. To establish a culture that is outcome-oriented, it is important to have a clear understanding of your expectations. If you don’t know your expectations, how do you measure success?

  3. Set consistent, clear, and measurable goals
  4. It is crucial to set clear goals and expectations from the outset so that everyone knows what they are working towards. This will help to ensure that the team members are not wasting time on tasks that don’t contribute to the end goal. It will also provide motivation for employees and help them feel like they are making progress in their day-to-day work.

    The management should be able to clearly communicate these goals and expectations, which can be done through regular meetings or one-on-one discussions. This will allow managers to keep track of who has a clear understanding of what they need to do and who doesn’t.

  5. Build trust with your people and your workplace
  6. There are a few ways to build trust with your people and workplace.

    Firstly, you need to be transparent with your employees about what you expect of them.

    Secondly, you should have a clear vision of what success looks like in your organisation, and be able to communicate it well.

    Thirdly, you should be able to clearly articulate what is expected of each person in their role while working together towards this common goal.

    Lastly, focus on building relationships with your employees and make them feel valued for their contributions by providing feedback as well as opportunities for growth.

  7. Resist the urge to micromanage
  8. Micromanagement is a form of controlling behaviour that often leads to low morale, high turnover, and poor results. It is an inefficient way to manage people and teams.

    Managers should not be afraid to delegate tasks and allow their employees to take ownership of the work they are doing. Provide employees with the freedom to do their job without interference. This will lead to higher morale, better results, and more ownership over the tasks being done.

  9. Ensure the right skills are in the right roles
  10. A key to an outcome-oriented culture is for managers and supervisors to focus on their staff’s strengths and skillsets, making sure they are using them in a way that will help them achieve their desired outcomes. This means identifying what people do well and what they need help with so they can be successful in their roles.

    You need to think about how your employees can work together and support one another for them to be successful:

    • First, we need to understand what skills are needed for a given role.
    • Next, we need to understand where these skills come from and if they can be learned or not.
    • Finally, we need to ensure that the skills for a given role are present in the organisation by either hiring or training someone with that skill set.

    It is also true that delegating work to those with the required skill sets will help them to deliver higher-quality performance and keep them engaged in their work.

  11. Keep the lines of communication open
  12. When we work with our teams, we should make sure that they participate in the process of deciding what is best for the company. We should also make sure that they have a voice in what is being done and how it is being done. There will be obstacles and challenges, and managers must ensure that their employees are able to voice their fears and give and receive feedback.

  13. Ensure your staff are still able to work as a team
  14. There are many ways to make sure that your staff is still able to work as a team even when they don’t have the chance to meet in person. For example, some organisations use video conferencing software so that their employees can work together on projects without being in the same office space. Others use social media so that they can communicate with each other through posts and comments.

  15. Clearly define job descriptions
  16. Job descriptions are an important part of defining the culture and expectations for employees. They can help employees know what their role is within the company and what their goals are for their position.

  17. Recruit professional and conscientious people
  18. A culture of accountability is the bedrock of any successful organisation. It starts with hiring the right people and then leveraging them to their full potential. This means finding people who are conscientious and work hard, taking care of every detail with excellence, and being accountable for what they do.

  19. Regularly monitor your team’s performance
  20. Managers should always be aware of the performance of their employees. Measuring performance regularly ensures that a manager can determine how individuals and the team are doing, and what needs to be improved to get better results.

    Regular monitoring or performance helps a manager to identify individual issues, too, and manage their people more effectively by measuring success rates, and reviewing deliverables.

Are your managers prepared to adopt and lead an outcome-oriented culture in a flexible work model? Is your organisation?

Take the PrimeFocus™ Mini Assessment to start your journey to discover a snapshot of where you stand today and the conditions that must be in place and aligned to deliver prime performance for your tomorrow.

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